Missouri Distracted Driving

A Guide to Missouri's Distracted Driving Laws

Distracted Driving

Sorry to start on such a negative note, but there are roughly 150,000 car accidents every year in Missouri. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Missouri defines distracted driving as “changing the radio, eating, talking, or texting.” There are a number of different ways that drivers can become distracted. They can be categorized three ways:

  • Manual: anything that causes you to take your hands off the wheel, like eating, smoking, or reaching for an object
  • Visual: anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road, like looking at a GPS, checking your hair in the review mirror,  or looking at kids in the backseat
  • Cognitive: anything that causes you to take your mind off the task of driving, like having a conversation with a passenger, going over your shopping list in your head, or daydreaming

Unfortunately, Missouri has very few laws to prevent distracted driving. And the few they do have focus mostly on texting by younger drivers, leaving other distractions unchecked.

Distracted Driving Statistics in Missouri

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Missouri:

  • Drivers who check their phones are three times more likely to get into an accident than drivers who don’t.
  • In 2017, 21,058 crashes in Missouri were officially attributed to distracted driving.
  • This number surpasses the number of drunk driving accidents (5,321) and speed-related accidents (19,535) in this state.
  • The Missouri Department of Transportation thinks that many distracted driving accidents are not reported as such, stating that about 80% of all accidents in this state can be attributed to some sort of distraction.

Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Missouri

Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Missouri

Daydreaming, thinking about work, or going over grocery lists in your head are examples of cognitive distractions, which are more common than most might think. These cognitive distractions fall into the “other” category in this chart.

Does Missouri Have Laws against Distracted Driving?

Yes.

But they're pretty light. The state currently only prohibits:

  • Drivers under the age of 21 from text messaging
  • Commercial drivers from texting or using handheld cell phones

That’s it. Drivers 21 and over can text as they please and handheld cell phone use is still common and legal in this state.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Missouri?

Yes.

Commercial drivers and drivers under the age of 21 are free to text and use electronic devices if they are:

  • Lawfully parked or stopped
  • Reporting illegal activity
  • Summoning medical or other emergency help
  • Doing so to prevent injury to a person or property
  • Using a factory-installed or aftermarket GPS device
  • Using the device to relay information between a transit or for-hire operator and the operator’s dispatch, provided the device is permanently affixed to the vehicle

Missouri Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance


            Yes            No
Is texting while driving legal?                  X                               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                 X               
Is handheld device use permitted?                 X
Any special restriction for young drivers?
                X
Is headphone/headset use permitted?                 X               

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in Missouri?

Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.

Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as talking on a handheld cell phone. In fact, in 2017, there were 759 car accidents in this state that were caused by drivers who were distracted by eating or drinking!

So, what happens if a police officer in Missouri sees you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that says you can't eat while driving in this state.

But even legal distractions (like eating or adjusting the radio) can significantly increase your risk of being in an accident or driving erratically, so it's better to avoid it whenever possible. Otherwise, you might find yourself looking at the wrong end of a citation.

So unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off eating your Big Mac indoors or in the parking lot.

What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Missouri uses primary enforcement.

This means that even if you're obeying all traffic laws and feel like you're in total control of your vehicle while doing so, if you look young and a police officer sees you sending a text message while driving, you may be pulled over and given a citation.

What's the Fine for Distracted Driving in Missouri?

A citation will stick you with a $200 fine and add points against your driver’s license. Of course, as the law currently stands, the only people who can violate it are those who are under 21 and drivers of commercial vehicles.

Missouri compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. But in 2021, newly enacted cell phone restriction laws will go into effect in Arizona.

Does a Distracted Driving Citation in Missouri Increase Insurance Rates?

Yes.

Distracted driving is considered a moving violation in Missouri and that means it'll add points against your driving record. For that reason, your car insurance company will be made aware of the infraction.

The amount of your rate increase will depend on several factors, including which insurance company you use, your overall driving record, and whether your distracted driving violation resulted in an accident. In general, Missouri residents see their car insurance go up an average of $131 a year following a distracted driving citation.

What If I Drive into Another State?

Distracted driving laws vary from state to state, and when you cross that state line you're required to follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip!

Let’s face it:  Missouri is a bit behind the times when it comes to distracted driving laws. Many neighboring states—such as Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee—have established partial bans on the use of handheld devices.  These bans primarily pertain to active school and work zones. Meanwhile, next door in Illinois, all handheld cell phone is prohibited.

Virtually every state surrounding Missouri prohibits text messaging while driving. You have to drive all the way to Montana if you want to legally text while driving through another state. So does this mean that if you're texting someone while you drive over the Missouri state border you are breaking the law? Yes it does. So unless you feel like paying a big fine, you'd best put the phone away.

What's Missouri Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?

When Arizona’s full ban on texting while driving goes into effect in 2021, Missouri and Montana will be the only remaining states that permit drivers to text while behind the wheel. 

This is not to say that lawmakers in this state have no interest in prohibiting texting and other handheld device use in this state. More than a dozen bills have been filed over the last four years to this end, but as of yet, none have gained any traction.

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting and the Candy Crush until you get home.

Sources © 2020, Consumer Agent Portal, LLC. All rights reserved.

https://www.mshp.dps.missouri.gov/MSHPWeb/SAC/Compendium/TrafficCompendium.html#

https://www.drivinglaws.org/resources/missouri-s-cellphone-use-texting-while-driving-laws.html

© 2020, Consumer Agent Portal, LLC. All rights reserved.

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